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Ranking the Eagles’ potential NFL playoff opponents

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Also, a look at the remaining seeding scenarios for Week 17

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are upon us, and the Philadelphia Eagles have more than two weeks to find a fire that, at least offensively, they lacked in Monday’s Christmas Day victory.

When they do return to the field for the Divisional Round of postseason play, they’ll be matched up with either the No. 4-, No. 5- or No. 6-seeded NFC team. (If the season ended today, that would mean the Eagles would be exempt from playing the Los Angeles Rams, the No. 3 seed, in their first playoff game.)

A couple of things are still at play in Week 17 of the regular season. While the Eagles figure to use their finale against the Dallas Cowboys as both a chance to give certain starters additional reps and a chance to rest many others, here’s what’s on the table entering the last week of the year:

  • The Rams can clinch the No. 3 seed with a win vs. the 49ers or losses by both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints. Los Angeles coach Sean McVay, however, doesn’t particularly care what happens as he prepares to rest some of his starters.
  • The Minnesota Vikings can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win or tie vs. the Bears or a loss or tie by the Panthers. Carolina is the only other team that could secure the No. 2 seed — with a win and a loss by the Vikings and losses/ties by the Rams and Saints. (Reminder: The only way the Eagles could face the No. 2-seeded team is in the NFC Championship Game.)
  • The Saints can clinch the No. 4 seed with a win or a Panthers loss or a tie by both the Saints and Panthers.
  • If the Panthers don’t clinch the No. 2 seed, they can clinch at least the No. 4 seed with a win and a Saints loss/tie or a tie and a Saints loss.
  • The Atlanta Falcons can clinch a playoff berth with a win or a Seattle Seahawks loss or ties by both the Falcons and Seahawks.
  • The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Falcons loss/tie or a Seahawks tie and Falcons loss.

Confused yet? Not to worry. It’ll all sort itself out on Sunday anyway. The gist of this, from an Eagles perspective:

  • The Vikings will more than likely be the No. 2 seed, which means they would not face the Eagles until a potential NFC Championship matchup.
  • The Rams or Saints are most likely to be the No. 3 seed, which means one of them would not face the Eagles in the Divisional Round.
  • Factoring in the probability of every NFC playoff seeding scenario, the Eagles are most likely to face either the Saints, Panthers or Falcons in the Divisional Round.

What should Eagles fans hope for, though?

That’s probably the trickiest question of all, because there’s an argument to be made that maybe five of the six NFC playoff teams could be classified as the best in the conference. It’s been years since the NFC carried so many potential 11- or 12-win records into the postseason, and there’s been little correlation between the NFC playoff teams when matched up against each other (the Rams lost to the Eagles but beat the Saints, who lost to the Vikings but beat the Panthers, and so on).

The Eagles obviously have themselves to worry about, too, having just barely escaped two underwhelming teams since Week 15. But with “any given Sunday” in mind and the postseason right around the corner, it’s never too early to start ranking the team’s potential playoff opponents in order of most favorable for Philadelphia:

1. Atlanta Falcons

Yes, they’re the reigning NFC champs. Yes, they employ Julio Jones. But the Falcons are just 1-4 against playoff teams this year, Matt Ryan (19 TDs, 12 INTs) has been mostly pedestrian and Atlanta has consistently been undone by untimely penalties. Oh, and they’ve been in 10 different games that were decided by less than a touchdown. Simply put, they’re the messiest of the NFC’s contenders. If you’re thinking way ahead, however, maybe you don’t even want them in the playoff picture if they’re not going to beat up on a potential Eagles opponent in the Wild Card Round.

2. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks did something that no one else really could in 2017, and that was stymie the Carson Wentz-led Eagles offense. Wentz, of course, is gone now, so why embrace Seattle for a rematch? Well, because their run defense is still below average and Russell Wilson is still being asked to shoulder their entire offense. Wilson is magical, but it’s hard to envision him running for his life and replicating his Week 13 outing in Philadelphia, especially if Doug Pederson and Co. have extra time to prepare.

3. Carolina Panthers

Say what you want, but is it really that crazy to prefer a matchup with Carolina to one with Seattle? The Panthers are dangerous when Cam Newton is on his game, but the Eagles’ defense had enough to get him off his game in October, and it’s not as if Carolina has been downright dominant on its current 7-1 stretch — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers almost upset them in Week 15, they sneaked past Aaron Rodgers and a bad Green Bay Packers team and almost blew a win over the Vikings. At the end of the day, with an NFC Championship trip on the line, would you rather face Cam or Wilson?

4. Minnesota Vikings

They have to be the hardest to forecast. On one hand, they have a killer defense — a physically imposing unit built for January and especially threatening to any offense that resembles Monday’s Nick Foles blunder. Their offensive weapons, namely Adam Thielen over the middle, are pesky, too. On the other hand, is Case Keenum, the guy who looked only so-so at cold Lambeau Field vs. Green Bay, really going to show up in the playoffs? Get after him, and maybe things change. The Vikes seem like the most complete NFC playoff team, albeit with one of the lowest ceilings.

5. New Orleans Saints

Again, in a sense, the Vikings are probably more sound and more physical. Sean Payton hasn’t exactly overseen the cleanest operation, either. In line with the other NFC South clubs, the Saints have ruined themselves with some untimely boo-boos and are still vulnerable against the pass. It’s the idea of Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara coming to the Linc that should be scary, though. Maybe the Eagles’ run “D” is sturdy enough, but Brees’ up-tempo, quick-strike passing attack is the kind of rhythmic work that haunted the secondary against L.A. and the New York Giants.

6. Los Angeles Rams

Like Keenum, Jared Goff isn’t a proven playoff quarterback, and there are even indications he played “shook and shaky” against the Tennessee Titans’ pressure in Week 16, so maybe coming to cold Philadelphia really benefits the Eagles’ defense. Still, if the Rams aren’t a threat after what they did to Philly in Week 14, then who is? Wentz was still around for most of their last get-together, remember, and Todd Gurley alone makes L.A. a favorite to drop at least 25 points, if not more. There probably aren’t many people ready to say Philly is primed for a shootout at this stage of the season.

Poll

Which NFC team is the biggest threat to the Eagles in the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Rams
    (1774 votes)
  • 34%
    Saints
    (2526 votes)
  • 30%
    Vikings
    (2173 votes)
  • 3%
    Panthers
    (219 votes)
  • 5%
    Seahawks
    (377 votes)
  • 2%
    Falcons
    (174 votes)
7243 votes total Vote Now